Meet Jen Brenner, a Certified Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) at Beaumont Royal Oak, who has been braving the front lines during COVID-19. Thank you Jen for serving our community!
How many children do you have?
My husband and I have 2 daughters. We also have a mini golden-doodle named Ginger!
Where do your children go to school?
Both girls go to Birmingham Covington School. We like to joke that we are good at non-monetary lottery draws!
Tell us about your career.
I started as a Registered Nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I loved everything about the NICU and really felt rewarded when the neonates (and moms) would “graduate” and no longer need our specialized care. From there, to strengthen my skills in order to further my degree, I went to the Open-Heart Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU). Moving from neonates to adults was an unnerving but welcome challenge!
After working in the SICU for two years, I went on to earn my Masters in Science and Nursing and have been working as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) since 2005. I especially enjoy working in pediatric surgeries.
*A little history: Nurse Anesthetists are advanced practice registered nurses with specialized graduate-level education in anesthesiology. We practice in every setting in which anesthesia is delivered including surgical, obstetric, emergency/trauma, and diagnostic procedures, and also pain management services. We stay with the patient for the entire procedure, constantly monitoring vital signs and important bodily functions, making adjustments to the anesthesia to ensure maximum safety and comfort.
Why did you decide to become a nurse?
I grew up knowing I wanted to do something in healthcare. One of my first jobs was as a patient transporter at a local hospital. After learning the multiple roles nurses play in patient care I knew it was right for me! It also felt natural that the core values of nursing (compassion and empathy, critical thinking, hands on approach, communication and professionalism) mimic my own.
What’s the best thing about your job?
What I love most about being a CRNA is that every time I work there is a new or different opportunity, and even sometimes a new challenge. The ability to work in all the different surgical and diagnostic areas of the hospital is exciting to me. I enjoy working on the MRI and Pediatric Anesthesia teams. I often work Labor and Delivery and call me crazy, but I really enjoy trauma surgery!
How has your job changed with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Anesthesia Department became responsible for every intubation (breathing tube) throughout the hospital, deemed the “Airway Team”. We also started a “Prone Team” in which a group of CRNAs would turn selected patients from their backs (supine) to their bellies (prone) and back again, as part of their treatment therapy. The operating rooms only boarded emergency or “essential” cases and this allowed for CRNAs to be “deployed” to different hospital units to offer support and direct care for COVID positive patients. For each, we had to learn how to safely “don and doff” (put on and take off) Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in order to provide emergency care to these patients.
What’s your advice to moms in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis?
Happy hour-cocktails or mocktails!
In all seriousness, I think it is important to be mindful of what is important in our lives: family, friends, food, or even shopping online! In this new world where we must maintain physical and social distance, human touch is rare. Hug your family more often and extra tight!
As best we can, I feel it’s super important to constantly refocus our attention and appreciate and embrace this time we have with our kids. When will we ever in the foreseeable future get this chance again? I recently listened to a podcast stating we have at best 18 summers with our children before they have grown up and head to college as adults. Take from that what you want, but it makes me feel quite sad that time is limited. I know I can do better to stay present with my girls, and remind myself to not sweat the small stuff that drives me batty (leaving dishes out and TikTok moves ALL DAY LONG)!
How do you juggle work with motherhood?
My husband and I have always stressed the importance of my career, and I think my girls have grown up respecting what I do away from home. My anesthesia career is quite flexible and I work 24 hours a week. During this pandemic, I switched to two 12 hour midnight shifts. This creates a little challenge because I need to sleep when I get home! I think my girls are at a responsible age; they do not need me every step of the way. They have both blown me away with their helping hands, independent study, and self care. We are lucky to have help from our extended family too!
Having friends is just as important as family! When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, one of her friends’ parents asked us over for a “family dinner”. This idea was new to me and I will never forget it. We went for dinner, 6 adults and 9 kids! My friend had prepared noodles and chicken and carrots for the kids and…..just about the same for the adults! It was fabulous! I realized we all had similar family values. In time we find our people, our village! Having the courage to ask for help and realizing “your people” are willing and wanting to help is mind blowing! I’m so thankful for my village, the other mothers and families we trust and respect, whom we can easily ask for help!
What have you been doing to try to keep your sanity during this time at home?
In no particular order:
Getting outdoors daily
Playing family games
Golfing with Bill or friends.
Enjoying zoom coffee and happy hours
Social media (blogs, podcasts, FB, INSTA-I’ve never been a big “poster” or “follower”-my teenage daughter is teaching me the etiquettes!)
We cook and bake-A LOT
I daydream about interior design (when this is all done, I want to have someone help me pull it all together!)
What’s one thing you have learned about yourself during this COVID-19 quarantine.
In early April I had 14 days off from work. The array of emotions that hit me while I was off was intense and shocking. Although I was thankful I had a break, my mind kept drifting to the dark places. I cried, I was mad, sad, worried, scared. I felt immensely for the families of loved ones alone in the hospital. I kept dreaming I was running into a burning building. I don’t think watching the news all day long helped these feelings. I was reading a book the other day and a line struck me:
“Too little information and you are blind, too much and you are blinded”.
I had to tune out of the media and limit my exposure. I was blinded by sorrow and the unknown and had to dig deep to shake the negative feelings. I started meditating again for a short time each day which really helped me address some of those negative emotions. When I returned to work, I was focused and ready. Strength and compassion moved me forward. Persevering alongside my noble coworkers was extremely encouraging and humbling. I am so proud of my profession!
Is there a charity that you are passionate about/actively involved in?
In the current pandemic, I am passionate about the worldwide effort Operation Pac-Man. The goal is to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare workers and hospitals who are facing an unprecedented shortage of supplies as they work to fight COVID-19. Without this protection, healthcare workers can get sick.
Anything else you would like to share?
The outreach and encouragement of the community has been overwhelming. I’d like to personally thank everyone who has supported healthcare workers during this pandemic!
*Fun fact: CRNAs have been providing anesthesia in the U.S. for over 150 years, beginning with wounded soldiers on the battlefields of the Civil War! Today, most of the “hands-on” anesthesia provided in the U.S. is from a CRNA!
With each anesthetic, I am humbled that patients put their lives in my hands and I work with respect and dignity to maintain the safest care I possibly can.